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Friday,July 28,2000

A GOOD START, BUT ...

 

WE should be grateful. And we are. But ...

Monday, the offices of New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau announced a large ticket scam bust - 16 folks indicted.

Seven brokers, eight Yankee box office workers and one from the Mets' box office staffer were charged with making "ice." Ice is the term used for the inside trading and scalping of tickets.

There's no end to how icemen operate. Essentially, though, they make tickets end up in all the wrong hands for all the wrong reasons, with plenty of profit for both the inside man and the outside broker.

Spitzer declared: "It's exactly this unholy, illegal alliance between box office workers and ticket brokers that conspires to shut out real fans from being able to get a ticket to a playoff game, big concert or hot Broadway show.

"Thanks to bribery at the box office, the tickets are gone even before they go on sale. This case should send a loud and clear warning to box office workers and ticket brokers everywhere: Those of us in law enforcement are going to be vigorous and vigilant in going after box office bribery wherever we find it."

Amen to that, brother, amen.

If a person - someone Spitzer calls a "real fan" - can actually afford to buy a ticket to a hot event, then he or she should have a fair shot at buying one. Spitzer and Morgenthau, to that end, seem to have struck a noble blow on behalf of New York sports fans. But especially New York team owners.

As Morgenthau noted: "The corrupt ticket agents and brokers were not only profiting at the expense of fans by charging them inflated prices for the diverted tickets, but at the expense of the Yankees, as well. Part of the economic loss to the Yankees is in the form of lost royalties from TicketMaster, which has an exclusive contract to sell Yankee tickets.

"Thus, the Yankees would have collected more royalties if more tickets had been available for sale, instead of being diverted to brokers and scalpers."

That's where our gratitude to Spitzer and Morgenthau begins to flag. The average fan doesn't consider TicketMaster to be much better or different than a scalper. TicketMaster's practices are widely perceived as consumer-abusive, a non-illegal form of scalping.

A call yesterday to TicketMaster found that a single $26 ticket to a Yankee game, purchased through TicketMaster, costs $33.25 - a $4.25 service charge, plus a $3 "convenience charge" is added to the face value.

And what if one has a wife and two kids? That $7.25 is attached to every ticket purchased, thus tickets totaling $104 in face value will cost $133.

If sticking one $26 ticket in an envelope costs an extra $7.25, why should it cost an added $14.50 to stick two tickets in the same envelope, an extra $29 to stick four in the envelope?

We can understand how TicketMaster would have to develop a graduated rate for larger quantity purchases. It has to make a profit and it doesn't want to inspire scalping by issuing a stack of tickets at a reasonable service charge to a guy who might turn around and re-sell them.

But the "handling" cost of handling of tickets isn't contingent on the cost of handling tickets, but on the face value of the tickets. Thank goodness the world is being made safer for the Yankees and TicketMaster. And Spitzer said that the indicted formed an unholy alliance.

And if it's inside-job scalpers that Spitzer and Morgenthau wish to flush out and prosecute, I can save them a fortune in investigative costs:

Indict the ownership and management of the Yankees, Mets and Madison Square Garden. I have all the documents they'll need. They're a matter of public record. The ads have run in local newspapers, on local radio and TV, in mailings.

You want tickets to a Mets at Yankees game? That's one of those hot tickets Spitzer spoke of.

Well then, just buy tickets to two New Jersey Nets games, games outrageously pitched as "Playoff Drive" contests with the Nets virtually out of the hunt, and the YankeeNets will sell you a Mets-Yanks ticket. One $15 Mets-Yankees ticket will run you over $100. How holy is that alliance?

Would Spitzer and/or Morgenthau give their public blessings to such a deal? YankeeNets exec Harvey Schiller has already declared that such a practice will continue, fellas, so why not be heard on this ticket issue? It's right there in front of you, no gum shoe work needed.

How about Yanks at Mets tix? Hot, hot, hot. Just buy tickets to five other Met games, and the Mets will sell you that hot ticket, the one you want. A holy deal? Or a fleecing?

If Spitzer and/or Morgenthau find such a deal to be fair, please, let us all know as soon as possible.

The Garden, this year, has gifted Knick season's tickets holders with a third, must-buy, regular-season priced pre-season game. One must buy tickets to three games that don't count. How holy is that?

If Spitzer or Morgenthau wished to purchase a season subscription to, say, the opera, but in order to do so they had to buy tickets to three rehearsals, they'd call a cop. Or the District Attorney's office.

Again, with Monday's indictments of 16 alleged ticket scammers, Spitzer and Morgenthau seem to have well served their constituents. But, in so doing, they also seem to be granting exclusive scalping rights, er, creative marketing rights, to New York's team owners and the boys at TicketMaster.

*

NOT even the most remarkable sporting accomplishments can stand alone. They all must be draped in crass commercialism.

Wednesday, when repeat Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong rang the closing bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange - a photo/TV-op - he was flanked by Nike boss Phil Knight. A large Nike swoosh was at the front of the podium.

Neither Knight nor Nike can allow any accomplishment to supersede the sell. Class is abandoned because it isn't worth a damn.

*

FLORAL Arrangements: One night, on a Mets' telecast, we'd like to find Howie Rose and Gary Thorne interviewing Bud Selig. That way, we could have Rose, Bud and Thorne. And, for those scoring at home, Mets spelled backwards is Stem.

Our suggestion, in this space, Sunday, that Boomer Esiason's assignment as a WFAN fill-in host was based in chumminess with FAN's ownership, management and hosts has been vehemently denied by program director Mark Chernoff. Esiason's presence, Chernoff insists, was his call, and his alone.

Sparetime sports cartoonist and fulltime nobleman Dom Nunziato has published "Spoil Sports," a collection of his illustrated takes on contemporary sportsdom. Dom's sense of the times finds a Rookie of the Year recipient thanking "all my teammates on all the teams I played for this year." Beautiful. It can be ordered on spoil-sports.com.

OY GAVAULT: Once again, NBC's use of videotape has proven darkly comical. Sunday night's coverage of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials included early attempts in the women's pole vault, then a reminder from Tom Hammond that the event's conclusion would be shown later. But during the men's 800 meters, before NBC returned to the pole vault, the winner's name and vault - Stacy Dragila, 15 feet, 21/4 inches - could clearly be seen on a scoreboard.

MSG, Wednesday, did a nice job showing how Albert Belle grounded into a double play because he low-geared it to first. No doubt Spike Lee, Belle videographer, would tell us that this was further evidence of the racist, white male-dominated sports media's failure to relate to Belle.

*

Phil Mushnick's column returns August 11



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